If you ask most people what termites eat, they’ll probably answer right away with “wood.” While it’s true that termites chew through wood, they derive nutrients from the cellulose that wood contains. Cellulose is an organic compound found in plant cell walls and vegetable fibers (like cotton). The bacteria and protozoa in a termite’s digestive system enable it to break down cellulose into sugar that the insect can use for nutrients.
Do Termites Eat More Than Just Wood?
Make no mistake: wood is a common termite target. Depending on the type of termite, it may prefer dead wood or living trees. However, you can find cellulose in all kinds of plant-based materials, which is why termites are not limited to eating wood.
Outdoors, termites can eat live and dead trees, stumps, dead leaves and branches, and organic mulch. They can even be attracted by the leaves and twigs clogging your gutters! This is why it’s essential to keep a well-maintained yard, particularly during spring (termites’ swarming season).
Your home’s interior also offers numerous food sources beyond its wooden frame, including:
- Paper (books, files, notebooks, etc.)
- The outer layer of drywall or sheetrock
- Cotton clothing, upholstery, and home accents
- Shelves, cabinets, and furniture made of particleboard
Termites can eat all of these items to get to the cellulose inside. Keep in mind: termites can also chew through plastic to get to a food source, even if they don’t eat the plastic itself.
Is There Wood That Termites Won’t Eat?
As mentioned above, some termites have a preference for live wood versus dead wood, but there are also specific types of lumber and trees that termites will avoid.
- Pressure-treated lumber
- Cedar (as long as it hasn’t decayed)
- Redwood (initially, but not once its resin seeps out)
The “menu” of what termites will eat is still quite extensive. It’s important to keep vigilant and watch for signs of an infestation around your home, including cracked paint, tiny mounds of droppings (frass), swarming insects that look like flying ants, discarded wings, hollow-sounding wood, or mud tubes around your home’s exterior.